Meg-ColesNot only did Megan Gail Coles beat out two artistic giants to win this year’s Winterset Award (Michael Crummey & Alan Doyle), she is the first fiction writer to win our province’s most prestigious book award with a debut book. (Those saying “What about Kathleen Winter’s boYs?” should know that wasn’t her first book.)

This is a serious feat, worth the 10 grand and then some: She’s set a record no one’s ever going to take away from her, and if the purpose of an award is recognition, then being the author who took out Michael Crummey & Alan Doyle to get that recognition will undoubtedly crank the media spotlight up some considerable wattage.

This was in no way a surprise win, however. Anyone attuned to the local literary scene has heard the 100% positive buzz about this book. The month it was published, this very paper ran the very enthused headline “A Raving Mad Review of a Really Good Debut” atop editor Chad Pelley’s review of the book.

Her linked short stories in Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome nail every aspect of what a good short story is and does. Characters, for instance, are the crux of this breed of lively, unrestrained short fiction, and the cast in this book are endearing, gut-busting, and memorably real. I mean, we’re talking about people who choose to see robbing med school students as “class readjustment” or a mother who does not like her three year old “pervert” son. “Oatmeal in his nose. Dunking my cellphone in his orange juice … I definitely don’t want another.”

Another required feature of short stories is for the language itself to shine and pop, line by line, and hers does as well as anyone’s: it’s vibrant, vivacious writing, and never afraid to be desperately, daringly, achingly human, which is the function of a short story: is it capturing something about the human experience? Every character in the book has their problems, and that’s something this book highlights: we are all starved for more ideal human connections, and we’re all hungry for something just out of reach.

The flair of her writing makes the frailty of human kind more fun than maudlin to read: these stories are full of the snap, crackle, and pop that keeps life — and books — interesting. Coles has the consistently strong and engaging voice of a natural born writer, and with this Winterset win, she joins the ranks of fellow Winterset winners Michael Winter, Kathleen Winter, Michael Crummey, Ed Riche, Joan Clark, Russell Wangersky, Kenneth J. Harvey, and other icons as locals from whom we all eagerly await new works.

Granted, we’ll have to wait a little longer for Meg, maybe, as theatre gets a lion’s share of her artistic time. Her background in theatre might even be the source of the cinematic flair in these stories. Funny, sexy, silly, and serious, these stories sum up how absurd and precious our life is. Don’t miss this book if you love fresh new Canadian short fiction, which any CanLit connoisseur knows is our country’s specialty item.

Why not check out our podcast with Meg Coles?